You are hereUSA Today: Experts say Gabrielle Giffords needs year to show progress

USA Today: Experts say Gabrielle Giffords needs year to show progress


March 2, 2011- Soon after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords emerged from brain trauma surgery, her doctors lauded her recovery from a gunshot wound as "miraculous." Three Democratic lawmakers, citing the "incredible strides" she has made since the Jan. 8 shopping-center shootings, say they will host a campaign fundraiser on March 15 for the 2012 election.

And Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva floated the "distinct possibility" that, based on her progress so far, Giffords could run for the Senate seat to be vacated in 2012 by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Just weeks after a bullet tore through the left side of Giffords' brain, expectations of a full recovery are running high. They're fueled by Giffords' initial, encouraging responsiveness and by upbeat snippets of information released by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, staffers, family members and friends.

Despite her apparent progress, however, brain trauma experts say months may pass before anyone can reliably assess her progress and when, or if, she'll be able to take up her duties again.

"In a year's time, it will be pretty clear where she'll be," says Joel Stein, director of rehab at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. "It's not inconceivable that she would return to Congress, but it's unlikely that she will be exactly as she was beforehand."

To appreciate the challenges ahead, it's critical to understand the devastation caused by the bullet, says Mark Ashley, CEO of the Center for Neuro Skills, a chain of brain trauma rehab centers based in Bakersfield, Calif.

"You have a hundred billion brain cells," Ashley says. "Each one functions like a minicomputer with special functions assigned to it. And each one is connected with wires to every other nerve cell in the body. If we cut the cable to your computer, it can't connect to the world's computers. That's what happens here."

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